Finally at long last, an adaptation of a work by the great H.P Lovecraft that is worthy of his name. There have been many attempts prior (mostly low budget hyper-garbage), but none have come even close to properly complementing the greatest (yes, the GREATEST) horror writer of all time. It is incredibly overdue. As a huge Lovecraft fan and this particular story being my absolute favorite, I can thoroughly say that this film passes with flying colors.
As mentioned earlier, this is not the first attempt to bring Lovecrafts incredible works to life. They range from the absolutely deplorable ('Cool Air', 'The Dunwich Horror', 'Dreams in the Witch House') to the amusing but terribly misinterpreted ('Reanimator'). There are several other films that take titles of Lovecraft tales but instead of telling the written story, choose to make up their own using a hodgepodge of different Lovecraftian devices ('Dagon', 'Beyond the Walls of Sleep'). For whatever reason, a proper adaptation of Lovecraft seemed too much for anyone to dream of. Until Huan Vu decided to make 'The Color Out of Space' that is.
Starting with the story itself, the film does change a number of things. The time frame in which the events occur is one. In the film it is set in the 1970's with the flashbacks (in which most of the narrative takes place) occurring at the close of WWII. Lovecraft published the book (which he regarded as his finest work) in March of 1927. Also, the geography is changed. The film taking place in Germany and the book taking place in Massachusetts. These changes actually work quite well, as they tie into the war paranoia of the era as well as giving it an old world feel that complements the story well. Aside from these details, the early portions of the film follow the book almost verbatim, including the writing structure in which the events are recalled second hand. Around the 1 hour mark, things start to diverge a bit. There are several liberties taken that don't quite fit. I won't go into details, but things happen that have no real basis in the novella. That isn't to say they aren't successful for the most part. None of the changes are a huge departure, rather tweakings to bring a little more action to the screen. The only change that had me raising my eyebrow was the ending. There is a significant twist that does not occur in the original story, and it undermines the context of the film. Despite these changes, it is about 90% accurate to its source and in doing so is 500x more faithful than any other Lovecraft film.
A huge success of the film for me was its overall visuals and direction. It is filmed in stark black and white to accentuate both its old world aura and its time frame. Also, this allows the use of color to represent the otherworldly (and impossible to actually replicate) hue described in the films title. Black and white also serves to cover up some suspect effects which look totally passable without color. Great cinematography takes full advantage of some incredible landscapes, shooting them in some very interesting aesthetic ways. A sharp eye for composition, symmetry, and framing is quite evident. The interplay of music (and often the lack of music) is also very effective. For the most part, a score is passed over in favor of letting the building silence mount the tension. An underutilized and very effective decision.
The tone and pacing of the film are major wins also. Lovecraft wrote his stories in a manor that I can best describe as 'creeping'. A slowly building, ascension of dread; turning the screw at a rate that will have your nails bitten to the bone before anything actually happens. This is not a technique embraced by a great many modern filmmakers as is evidenced by the pitiful showing of former Lovecraft adaptations, but director Vu gets it. He is the first director of a Lovecraft film that I can say 'he actually read this story beforehand'. Lovecrafts building tension is translated perfectly. Vu does get caught up a little bit at the end going for the big moment, but he reels it in nicely overall. You could call Lovecraft the great grandfather of the 'slow burn' horror genre and he did it better than anyone. This film perfectly executes his feel and style.
The acting is excellent. I have never heard of anyone appearing in this film, but everyone plays their part exceptionally well, all the way down to the minor parts. Part of the reason for this is a great script, much of it taken directly from the novella. I have never understood why so many adaptations of great literary works suffer from subpar scripts. The script is already written! Use the words of someone who is most likely a more talented story teller than you are. Chances are the author has a better understanding of their own work than anyone else. Fortunately, that advice is followed more often than not here.
From top to bottom, 'The Color Out of Space' is a success. Creative filmmaking gets around the obvious issues with its budget and the difficulties of bringing a story such as this to life. A seriously strong vision and direction give it the stark and foreboding hunger of the original story. Coupled with great performances and an obvious understanding and attention to detail of the source material, you have the best Lovecraft film ever made. A few departures and perhaps unnecessary plot devices knock what could have been a spectacular film down to a really good film, but I couldn't argue with anyone for rating it 4.5/5. Hollywood could learn a lot from this one.